It is likely that the iconography of the present figure, resembling a noble lady serenely reclined in rajalilasana
('royal ease'), is derived from the picture of the Water-Moon Guanyin created by the Tang painter Zhou Fang, and later made popular among sculpture during the Song period. A comprehensive discussion of this subject is found in Angela Falco Howard et al., Chinese Sculpture
, New Haven, 2006, p. 388. It has also been suggested that this pose originates from an episode in the 'Flower Garland' or Avatamsaka Sutra
) in which its protagonist, the youth Sudhana, in his search for true wisdom, seeks Avalokiteshvara on his island residence on Mount Potalaka (Ch. Budaluojia
), where the divine Compassionate One appears, in 'royal ease' within a grotto, and debates with Sudhana. Note the discussion on the origins of the variant 'royal ease' posture depicted here, which became popular along with the spread of the Avatamsaka Sutra
in China from the 10th century, in Derek Gillman, 'A New Image in Chinese Buddhist Sculpture of the Tenth to Thirteenth Century', Transactions of the Oriental Ceramic Society, 1982-83
, vol. 47, London, 1983, pp. 32-44.
The sculpture is particularly well preserved, with extensive traces of original pigments. The carver has skilfully captured the serenity and warmth of Avalokiteshvara, who is depicted as an approachable female figure with a full face and gentle smile, the eyes half closed and hair elegantly drawn into a high chignon, her elaborate crown featuring a seated figure of Amitabha Buddha. In this manifestation she is shown adorned with worldly accessories, such as the ornate necklace and crown, to emphasise her non-ethereal status, in sharp contrast to the stripped-black images of the Buddha. As it was believed that anyone who recited her name during times of distress would be rescued by her, she is the most worshipped deity in Buddhism and has therefore been frequently depicted in sculptural form.